Nutrition helps provides vital fuel for physical activity, and it’s crucial that active children and adolescents consume well-balanced meals and snacks to help support school sports. However, the timing of eating and exercising can impact on how children feel and perform during their chosen activity, as well as the balance of macronutrients consumed at each stage.
â— If children don’t eat anything at all before taking part in sports, they may lack energy and feel light headed. However, too much food can slow them down and make them feel unwell. It is therefore important to time food consumption right.
â— If children are consuming a full meal before exercise, this should be eaten around 2–3 hours prior to allow for adequate digestion. A small snack can be consumed around 30–60 minutes before exercise to help to top up energy levels.
â— It takes the body approximately four to six hours to digest fat, around three hours to digest protein and about two hours to digest carbohydrates. It is therefore important that children focus on consuming mainly easily digestible carbohydrates directly before sports, so the body can focus on fuelling exercising muscles rather than digesting a heavy meal.
â— Making sure children are well hydrated before they start an exercise session is important, so encourage them to drink regularly throughout the day and with their pre-exercise meal. A sports drink is OK once in a while, but these drinks contain a lot of sugar and calories so water or diluted fruit juice is a better choice.
â— An ideal pre-workout snack is a banana and a couple of oatcakes; this will provide a boost of energy without weighing children down. Bananas are also packed with potassium, which aids in maintaining proper nerve and muscle function.
â— If eating several hours beforehand, a meal based around wholemeal pasta or brown rice with plenty of colourful vegetables is ideal. This is a great way to increase stored energy in the muscles and give children the extra oomph they need later in the day.
â— It is generally not necessary for children to consume food during exercise, unless they are participating in endurance or high-intensity sports las